By Massimo Finocchiaro Castro, Isidoro Mazza and Domenica Romeo

To what extent do cultural goods contribute to increase society’s level of cultural capital? Greater satisfaction for cultural goods consumption and voluntary contributions is linked to the highest levels of cultural capital. Social approval deriving from donations is positively related to society’s existing cultural capital and triggers a positive externality for donators, in turn increasing contributions.

It is common knowledge that both the offer and the consumption of cultural goods ( i.e. tangible or intangible items of cultural significance, for instance heritage, works of art, and literature) generate a positive externality for society as a whole. However, leaving the job of supporting the supply of cultural goods up to individual contributions leads to inefficient levels of provision. In particular, each subject prefers not contributing to the cultural goods offer but enjoying the benefits. Despite this assumption, positive levels of contribution of cultural goods are found in the real world. Economists provide several reasons for the benefits which individuals take from voluntary contributions, such as the pursuit of more prestige, and of social approval. The most significant effect resulting from subjects’ choice to contribute is the accumulation of cultural capital, which Throsby defined as “an asset that embodies, stores or provides cultural value in addition to whatever economic value it may possess”. The accumulation of cultural capital increases, in turn, the stock of cultural capital, which refers to the quantity of such capital in existence at a given time.

In our model, we assume that individuals join the process of cultural capital accumulation both through voluntary contributions and tax payment which determine cultural capital in each period. Additionally, we consider another crucial aspect for this model, which is “cultural sensitivity”. In particular, greater quantities of cultural capital and individual contributions result in an increase in cultural sensitivity, meant both as greater attention to cultural goods offer and a greater satisfaction resulting from cultural goods consumption. Moreover, such sensitivity can affect both public choices and those of potential donators.

Based on the above, we can imagine the establishment of a virtuous circle, as described in Figure 1. Indeed, a higher level of cultural sensitivity leads to a growing interest in cultural goods and a greater propensity towards such goods consumption. Given the premises, it becomes possible to witness an increase in individual voluntary contributions, which thus triggers an increase in the cultural goods private offer. Once more, such conditions allow for generating a higher level of cultural capital. Additionally, individual donators’ choices to contribute are rewarded thanks to social approval by other members of society.

Hence, we provide a dynamic analysis of the cultural capital accumulation process. The starting idea is that subjects’ utility resulting from the consumption of cultural goods depends on their initial endowment of cultural capital. In fact, as shown by Cheng, the greater the society’s cultural capital, the broader the consumption of cultural goods. In particular, we attempt to explain the relationship between an increase in cultural capital and an increase in the voluntary provision of cultural goods. In fact, a greater level of cultural capital present in society increases the attention level towards cultural goods and, through social approval, encourages subjects to offer constantly growing contributions.

Figure 1: Cultural goods and cultural capital virtuous circle.

Results show that whenever individuals can observe the level of cultural capital accumulated in each period, their choices determine the highest possible level of cultural capital. The effect of cultural goods consumption on the accumulation of cultural capital has been also empirically investigated, among others, by Diniz and Machado. They show that cultural consumption in Brazil is also affected by the level of consumers’ education. Additionally, Castiglione and Infante reported the addictive effect of past cultural goods consumption, such as demand for theatre, on current and future choices. Finally, based on an empirical analysis of touristic flows in Aosta Valley (Italy), Alderighi and Lorenzini showed that when cultural capital accumulation is relevant, tourists are willing to give up some of their current utility in order to get higher returns in future.

From a policy perspective, our result is significant from two points of view. First, we provide support to the fundamental role of investing in cultural capital. For instance, by enhancing the opportunity to make the highest number of individuals in a society experience cultural goods, policy makers can increase the positive attitude towards cultural goods, and, in turn, the level of voluntary contributions to the provision of cultural goods. Second, it implies that when individuals are made aware of the society’s cultural capital level, their decisions to contribute to the provision of cultural goods can lead to better solutions than when they blindly choose. Since the consumption and the creation of cultural goods benefits the whole of society as argued by Chen, introducing a more accessible information system which spreads data on the society’s changes in cultural capital level could drive subjects to make better choices in terms of their individual voluntary contributions, which, in turn, increase the level of cultural capital, thus creating a more cultivated society.

About this publication:

Finocchiaro Castro, M.; Mazza, I.; Romeo, D. The Role of Cultural Capital on the Voluntary  Contributions to Cultural Goods:  A Differential Game Approach. Games 2021, 12, 27.

About the authors:

Massimo Finocchiaro Castro is associate professor with the Department of Law Economics and Social Sciences at the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria.

Isidoro Mazza is professor at the Department of Economics and Business, University of Catania.

Domenica Romeo is a researcher in public finance at the Department of Law Economics and Social Sciences at the Mediterranean University of Reggio Calabria.

About the image:

The Riace Bronzes, at the National Museum of Magna Grecia in Reggio Calabria.

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